A “Pairable” of Beer & Food

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by Ginger Johnson | Photo © Ginger Johnson

Beer is arguably the second oldest fermented beverage enjoyed by humanity and offers a host of attractive attributes. Among them is the endless ability to pair well with food. And, since beer has at least four ingredients (often more), it’s also chock full of opportunity to match with what we like to eat.

So how does one go about deciding how to pair which beer with which foods? Answer: Just start.

In the flavor-rich world all around us, everything is possible and, indeed, “pairable.” There are certainly some general guidelines which some folks hold to be true, though I’d encourage you to simply do your own exploring based on your own tastes and ideas. Do you like deep robust flavors? How about crisp astringent tastes? The good news is there’s room for all the exploring you want to do with our modern-day beer and food choices.

Here are a few suggestions to help guide your beer and food pairing pursuits. First, try everything you can—all the beers you want and all the foods you wish—then start thinking about how some of them would go together. Start pairing beer and food together to see what combinations you like and what you actually don’t care for. Own your own tastes, smells and experiences—they’re all valid since they are uniquely yours. Have faith in whatever you like, or don’t like, as it works for you. Last, go public with your pairing choices and try the pairings others suggest.

Beyond your own personal explorations at home, seek and embrace beer and food tasting events. Beer dinners are a mainstay for many. (I actually met my husband at one!) Many breweries offer classes and events to celebrate the pairing of food with beer. And plenty of retailers will host various beer and food events to provide customers the chance to taste before they buy.

Having conducted dozens of beer and food events, I have learned that the best tool for tasting is an open mind. Suspend judgment, ignore previous experiences and simply dive into the moment when your taste buds get to fully celebrate your choices.

There are numerous printed and published resources to assist you in your quest to discover delicious beer and food partners. A few I’d recommend include the newly published book Beer Pairing, co-authored by long-time beer pros Julia Herz (Brewers Association Craft Beer Program Director) and Gwen Conley (Director of Production and Quality Control, Lost Abbey Brewing). It’s overflowing with useful and mouthwatering insight on the what, how and why of beer and food pairing. Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer is written in a fun and user-friendly style. You can wander this book and gain insights, ideas and whet your appetite for beer and food.

I’d suggest making sure your flavor exploits include trying all sorts of combinations, regardless of what they “sound like.” Some seemingly odd pairings will yield remarkable enjoyment, and some which seem no-brainer may actually turn you off.

Engaging in beer and food pairings is made all the more fun with friends. Throw a casual tasting party—have your friends bring either new-to-them beers or a less familiar food genre (for example, various cheeses, chocolates, citrus, charcuterie) and see what develops. Beer’s a social beverage, we all need to eat and everyone is looking for reasons to connect. Combine them for a perfectly delectable evening.